Congressman Bill Pascrell’s Letter to Attorney General Eric Holder and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

The Honorable Hillary Clinton
Secretary of State
United States Department of State
2201 C Street, NW
Washington, DC 20520

The Honorable Eric Holder
Attorney General
United States Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Ave, NW
Washington, DC 20530

Dear Secretary Clinton and Attorney General Holder,

I am writing today to express my deep concern with the request by the government of the United Kingdom for information from the Boston College Oral History Archive relating to the conflict in Northern Ireland. I believe this legal maneuver jeopardizes academic freedom in the United States and abroad, and could do harm to the still fragile peace process in Northern Ireland.

The request of Boston College, made through the U.S. – U.K. Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT), fails to adhere to the stated intent of that treaty, which was intended to modernize the expedition process for serious crimes. In particular, the United States expressed that the treaty is not to be invoked for political goals, especially those relating to Northern Ireland which could undermine the Good Friday Agreement. Notably, the United States Senate resolved when ratifying the MLAT treaty, that “the treaty is not intended to reopen issues addressed in the Belfast Agreement, or to impede any further efforts to resolve conflicts in Northern Ireland.” The request in question aims to do just that, by reopening a decades-old case related to the conflict and possibly implicating individuals for conversations which they believed would be held in confidence.

Furthermore, this effort undermines academic freedom in the United Kingdom, Ireland and the United States. By collecting oral histories from those involved in the conflict, Boston College’s Belfast Project sought to increase the opportunities for reconciliation and understanding. The compilation of an accurate historical account of the events surrounding the Troubles in Northern Ireland will help future generations to understand this conflict and avoid repeating the past. Even if the request from the U.K. is denied, the appearance that those who speak in confidence about these events are not safe from government retribution will prevent others from coming forward to set the record straight, and also discourage academic institutions from undertaking similar projects.

In the interest of maintaining the close relationship between the United States, the United Kingdom, the Republic of Ireland and Irish-Americans, I urge you to ensure that this MLAT reuqest and subsequent subpoenas issued to Boston College are withdrawn. This action will go a long way towards ensuring our continued good faith commitment to the establishment of a permanent peace in Northern Ireland.

I appreciate your consideration of this request, and I look forward to your reply. Please keep me updated on this situation as it progresses, and feel free to contact me, or Ian McTiernan in my office, if I may be of assistance on this or any other issue.


Bill Pascrell, Jr.
Member of Congress